The board is pivotal to your organization’s success, and the way you choose to conduct the board meetings ensures that you keep moving in the right direction. If you want a board that engages, delivers, is thought-provoking, and are individuals that you can count on and trust, then you must do the right things. It all starts with you.
Having effective board meetings helps to keep everyone working together because of their structure and accountability. So it stands to reason that the more effective your board meetings are, the more likely it is that this group will be successful in keeping the club on track and taking care of all of that important business.
And just in case you were wondering, these meetings don’t need to be dry and boring. It can be quite exciting to be part of a productive group that produces positive outcomes for its members.
For board meetings to be effective they need to:
- Have a purpose and are well structured
- Have a connection
- Ensure members are allowed to speak and be heard
- Be chaired effectively
PURPOSE AND PREPARATION
The usual purposes of board meetings are to make decisions, set policies, solve problems, and plan for the future. In order to do that effectively, the board needs as much information as possible ahead of time.
That means getting out the agenda, board reports, and all supporting documentation well in advance of the meeting so they have time to prepare.
This means that everyone will need to understand what is expected of them, so they are prepared and able to deliver.
For example, If you have members that are working on a project or are the head of a subcommittee, then it would be good to set the expectation that this person delivers a board report updating everyone on their progress.
You will need to lead by example. You must have an agenda and have prepared yourself accordingly. There is nothing worse than attending a board meeting where the President hasn’t read any of the reports, isn’t prepared to speak to important decisions, or not ready to lead a robust discussion among the members.
ALLOW FOR CONNECTION
Allowing for time to connect is essential if you want to build a team that works well together. This can be allowing everyone to arrive ahead of time for drinks and a snack, or providing lunch and ample time for people to mingle. Or just giving people time to stick around afterward for casual conversation.
You can also build activities into the agenda if it’s a new group of board members that allows everyone the opportunity to get to know each other. Or do something social with each other twice a year where there’s nothing planned but a good get-together.
It is important for boards to have social opportunities as it builds a more cohesive team and ultimately leads to more productive and effective meetings.
ALLOW MEMBERS TO SPEAK AND BE HEARD
One of the main reasons why boards or teams, in general, are not effective, is that people don’t feel valued. They don’t feel like they can be honest with their thoughts and opinions or that no one listens anyhow, so why speak up.
It’s a real problem and an easy one to fix. Now that doesn’t mean you let people attack each other or allow the meeting to get off track, but it does mean you need to let people have a voice and allow them to be heard.
We call this speaking and listening with positive intent. That means everything that is said, comes from the desire to improve or be successful. And no matter what you feel about what is being said, you listen from the perspective that the person is saying what they are saying because they have the desire to improve things or see the club be successful.
Often when things get personal or heated, you can remind yourself or others that you are part of a board that is to look at things objectively for the success of the entire club (not just a few). And that the more people share thoughts and ideas, the more robust the conversations are, and the better the outcomes will be. However, that does mean everyone needs to speak and listen with positive intent.
BE CHAIRED EFFECTIVELY
The President is ultimately responsible for ensuring that meetings stay on track, timelines are respected, everyone’s voice is heard, and goals are accomplished. To chair effectively, you must:
- Encourage participation by all board members
- Allow time for all views and sides of an issue to be heard and discussed before a vote
- Ensure members understand the discussions and terms of an issue by asking for clarification when necessary
- Summarize discussions before voting or moving on to the next item
- Keep the meeting on schedule by adhering to the agenda and keeping board members on the topic
- Manage conflicts that arise during the meeting
- Ensure decisions are made clearly and explicitly (by vote or consensus) so that there is no room left for misunderstanding or misinterpretation
- Read or call for motions, call for votes on an issue, and ensure votes are counted and recorded in the minutes (if required)
- Ensure that the recorder of minutes reflects attendance, motions, and votes
- And, most importantly, any processes that are outlined in the constitution or by-laws are followed correctly (meeting procedures, quorum, and voting procedures)
If you do not follow the processes outlined in the constitution or by-laws, you could put your club in a situation where actions were taken or money was spent that was not lawfully agreed upon. You do not want to put yourself, your board, or your members in that situation.
BOARD MEETING BEST PRACTICES
According to Boardable.com, there are some simple practices you can master to make meetings go more smoothly. Remember, the more your attendees feel their time and expertise are being respected, the more engaged and invested they will be in the meeting outcomes.
PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME.
This is a crucial expectation not only for the meeting facilitator who is setting the agenda but equally important for the attendees. If your meeting guests are reviewing the agenda for the first time as they sit down at the meeting, they are not prepared adequately. It is important to explain during board member or staff recruiting and orientation that preparing for meetings is expected and that everyone at the table will be prepared, as well.
TALK LESS, LISTEN MORE.
If you’re a board leader, you may be used to everyone waiting to see what you have to say on a topic. It’s great to have trusted experts on the team, but others may hold back on what they are thinking until you have weighed in. To get the most out of a meeting discussion, try to listen more and talk less if you’re facilitating the meeting. After all, no matter the outcome, you will get more buy-in from everyone if the decision is reached as a group.
GET TO KNOW YOUR BOARD MEMBERS.
Getting to know your board members, their interests, discussion styles, and preferences is crucial when it comes to overall board management. A good board will have a variety of personalities. Some will talk first and think later. Others will think first and talk later. You need to know who you might need to encourage to talk and who you may need to encourage to stop talking! The board or committee chair should meet one-on-one with each member periodically to allow the kinds of conversations that are difficult in a group setting.
PARAPHRASE OTHERS’ COMMENTS.
When board members answer your questions or make a statement, paraphrase it back to them to make sure you (and the rest of the board) have the same understanding of what they said. I use language such as “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard you say that…” This uses “I-statements” – meaning that you accept responsibility for a misinterpretation instead of “You-statements” that can make a person defensive.
KEEP COMMITTEE REPORTS SHORT.
Long oral committee reports can drag a meeting down. Committee reports can be simple with bullet points for what the whole board needs to know. At the meeting, board members can ask questions and make comments instead of having to listen to a minute-by-minute account of committee proceedings. Another idea is to add the committee reports to a consent agenda and put them at the end of the meeting after the important discussions.
START AND END ON TIME.
One group, I knew always started the meeting right on time. When a late member walked in, the group would stop and applaud and then continue. Tardiness stopped. Likewise, in another group, the member who always came late arrived at one meeting to find everyone’s watches at his place. There was laughter, but the point was made, and he started arriving on time. The point of these ideas is simply to set an expectation of timeliness so everyone will be focused during the scheduled timeline.
KEEP THE DISCUSSION PRODUCTIVE.
This part of meeting conduct requires a lot of discipline and a commitment to the agenda items. Get agreement from the group to be able to put items that come up that are not relevant to the discussion in the “parking lot” and discussed at another time. Be sure to revisit the parking lot at the end of the meeting and assess what needs more research, to be added to the next agenda, or delegated as a task.
FOLLOW UP VIA EMAIL WITH MINUTES AND NEXT STEPS.
So, you had a great meeting with lots of productive decisions and discussions. Now what? Meeting minutes don’t just serve to keep a record of the meeting for posterity. They also capture the to-do’s and summarize what was agreed to accomplish before the next meeting. Be sure to send minutes out promptly, and perhaps include a separate or highlighted section of tasks to be completed before the next gathering. It is up to the board or committee chair to check in periodically on progress between meetings.
ACTIVELY MANAGE ATTENDANCE ISSUES.
Enforce an attendance policy so that board members who are often “no-shows” are removed from the board. It’s not fair to board members who come to meetings to have all the work fall only on them. Sometimes people need permission to admit that they can no longer fill the role of a board member.
Running effective board meetings, instead of “bored” meetings, will build a collaborative and engaged team. And when your board members enjoy their work, so will all of the other volunteers.